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Is Stress Making You Fat?

Is Stress Making You Fat?

You know the feeling. You’re scrambling to prepare for an early morning meeting, there is a stack of bills on the kitchen counter, maybe the kids are playing kickball in the house and you’re already anticipating the costs of replacing a broken window, when suddenly, you need an old-fashioned donut. In fact, you’d gladly take four of them. Life throws us many curveballs, but have you considered that your cravings for junk food may be a direct result from the stress in your life? Stress impacts our mood, productivity, and performance — and it is also one of the greatest contributors to abdominal obesity if food is used as a distraction when the going gets tough.

How Stress Affects Your Body

Chronic stress causes a production of the hormone cortisol in the body that depletes your energy and causes a blood sugar imbalance that leaves you craving high-fat, sugary foods. The calories in these foods are stored as fatty deposits in your abdomen and they send a signal to the brain telling it to relax because the fat can quickly be converted to energy if there is a shortage. Unfortunately, this extra energy is never utilized, and the fat remains long after the stress has dissipated.

How Stress Affects Your Mind

Stress can have wide-reaching effects on your mood and behavior that last long after the episode that triggered the response. Studies have shown that chronic stress can alter the way the brain is wired, causing long term effects on mental health, such as a change in sexual drive, social withdrawal, lack of focus, and irritability or anger. The chemicals released in the body during stressful times have also been shown to restrict higher-level thinking in favor of reactive tendencies, like angry outbursts and emotional eating.

Signs of Stress-Induced Eating

Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed, and continue to eat after you are full? Does food make you feel safe when life seems out of control? Do you eat to calm your nerves when you are anxious, sad, mad, or just bored? If you find yourself relying on a Red Bull when you feel tired, reaching for your secret stash of chocolate when you feel pressured, or find it difficult to stop yourself from overindulging in treats, you may be a stressed-out snacker. Once you can recognize that food is a scapegoat in your life, you can find other ways to break the cycle and confront overwhelming emotions.

Short-Term Relief From Stress

For immediate relief, laughter, exercise, meditation, hot baths, and even sex, all stimulate the same area of the brain that make us crave comfort food, and may minimize your reaction to stress in the first place. Stock up on simple and fun mood elevators for your home or office, such as a scalp massager, portable basketball hoop, or magnetic Buckyballs. Load your smartphone with your favorite songs and comedy skits, and simply take a walk when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Both nature and sunlight can be powerful weapons against stress, helping you to feel exhilarated from the fresh air and warm light and removed from the things that cause you stress.

How to End the Cycle

Emotional hunger can’t be satiated with food. If your stress levels and cravings persist, keep a journal and log the situations and emotions that are causing you to indulge. Seek social support from close friends or family to give yourself an outlet to express your emotions. Learning how to effectively communicate your thoughts will not only strengthen the bonds within your circle, it will help you to react appropriately to situations that may otherwise be a source of stress in your life. Overcoming stress can have many positive effects, including increased energy, self-confidence, and a renewed sense of purpose and willingness to seek challenges. Instead of tearing open a bag of M&M’s the next time you see your mother-in-law's name on caller ID, put your energy toward addressing your negative emotions without food to reduce your cravings and regain control of your life.

Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit for more information.

How Chronic Dehydration Can Make You Fat, Tired, and Weak

Water is the essence of life. Every living thing needs water to survive, right down to every cell in all plants and animals. Our bodies are made up of nearly 75% water and in order to thrive, we must supply all the cells in our bodies with adequate water so these tiny magical building blocks that make up our bodies can carry out all their biological processes.

Water is required for many of the body’s essential functions in a variety of ways. Water is used as a solvent and as a transporter for the movement of nutrients, hormones, and other elements around the body. It is essential for maintaining cell structure. Water is also necessary to enable proteins that act as enzymes to function more efficiently. Enzymes are the catalysts that allow virtually all the chemical reactions within cells to take place. Without enzymes, most biological process would not occur since the chemical reactions would take too long.

Download our free e-Book to learn 5 ways you can get better sleep, starting tonight.

One way our body compensates for a lack of water is by slowing down all our metabolic processes. Everything from the rate at which we eliminate waste in our cells, to cellular repair, and the rate at which we utilize our food for energy is affected in some way. Chronic dehydration can lead to a loss in these functions which can result in poor digestion, constipation, lethargy, headaches and migraines, dry skin and brittle hair, muscle cramps, joint swelling, and weight gain.

It’s Not Just You: Stress and Fat Are Linked

In times of stress, many of us turn for consolation to sugary, fatty, high-calorie foods. Macaroni and cheese? Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with extra butter? A massive hunk of buttercream-frosted cake? They don’t call them “comfort foods” for nothing.

“I often see unmanaged stress lead to overeating and binging with my clients,” says Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, author of Nourish Your Namaste e-book and blogger at The Foodie Dietitian. “When we push away our basic needs for self-care — relaxation, spirituality, fun, sleep — we wind up feeling overexerted, depleted and stressed and turn to food as a way to fulfill an unmet need. Overeating because of stress often leads to more stress and anxiety and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

Given that, the results of a recent British study that found a link between long-term stress and obesity may not come as much of a surprise.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London and published in the journal Obesity, looked at hair samples representing about two months of growth from more than 2,500 men and women age 54 and over participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to determine the levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, present in the hair. The researchers found that those with higher levels of cortisol, which plays a role in metabolism and fat storage, were more likely to be overweight or obese – to have a larger waist circumference, weigh more and have a higher body-mass index.

Although the study found only an association and not evidence of cause or consequence, the study is important in light of the dangers of excess abdominal fat, including heart disease, diabetes and early death, lead author Sarah Jackson, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, maintains.

“I think the take-home message from our study is really to try and maintain awareness of healthy lifestyle habits during times of stress,” Jackson tells Healthy Eats. “When we’re stressed out we may find it more difficult to find the motivation to go for a run or resist unhealthy foods, and that’s when it is easier for weight to creep on.”

The study also underscores the need to find ways of curtailing stress or dealing with it in ways that don’t involve food, Jackson says.

Lydon agrees. She recommends that, when you feel compelled to binge or overeat in times of stress, that you pause and ask yourself the food you’re about to tuck into is really what you need. “Often times, taking a walk outside to connect with nature or taking a warm candlelit bath is enough to fulfill an unmet need and the craving subsides,” she says.

Because everyone is different, Lydon suggests making a list of non-food-related things that help you combat stress – and keeping them handy. “Things like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going out with friends, coloring, venting to a loved one, or getting a hug can all release some stress,” she says.

And unlike that buttercreamy hunk of cake, a hug, while equally sweet, is calorie-free.

Reduce Anxiety and Stress: 11 Mood Boosting Recipes

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What you do and do not put in your body can actually have a huge impact on how you feel. Just like junk food can make you feel sick and lethargic, it can actually have an impact on your mental health, as well. Certain ingredients will help boost your mental health by doing things like promoting better sleep and helping to produce more serotonin, a brain chemical that boosts your mood and cognition.

That's why we have collected this list of recipes that use ingredients proven to relieve anxiety and boost your mood. These recipes are packed with nutrients like omega-3s, magnesium, choline, and more. We've all been told to drink milk to strengthen our bones and chomp on carrots for our eyes. Now, it's time to start eating foods that support your mental health, too!

About Anxiety and Stress
Anxiety and stress are some of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In fact, nearly 18.1% of Americans suffer from anxiety some time in their life. Anxiety is a feeling of restlessness, anxiousness, or general unease. This can be brought on by a disorder like generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety. It can also be created by stressful situations in your work or home life. Whether your anxiety is a longtime issue or you're suffering from situational anxiety, eating right is one of the best things you can do to help treat or dull the impact of anxiety in your day to day life.

Note: This list was created in order to provide some yummy and healthful recipes. If you are suffering from anxiety, we highly recommend seeking professional help. A mental health professional is really your best bet for combating anxiety.

Lavender and Earl Grey Scones

Lavender is said to have soothing properties that can aid in relaxation and even sleep. That's why you see the scent featured so heavily in calming lotions and other body products. These yummy little scones are a relaxing treat to munch on first thing in the morning before a big day.

Bacon, Eggs, and Cheese Breakfast Cups

Waking up with a healthy breakfast is essential for your mental health. A yummy protein can easily help you keep moving throughout the day and provide all the energy you need. Eggs are an especially smart start to the day as they contain a nutrient called choline. Choline is essential to helping your brain boost your mood and regulate your emotions, so eating these first thing in the morning can help you stay relaxed and happy throughout the day.

We love these breakfast cups because you can make them on a Sunday night and eat them throughout the week. They're the perfect grab and go breakfast.

Garlic Herb Baked Salmon

Salmon (and other fish) are packed with omega-3 fatty acids that are a key ingredient to maintaining a healthy mental state. These acids not only help to ease inflammation and aid in cardiovascular health, but they have also been linked to lower risk of affective disorders like depression as well as reducing aggression, impulsivity, and depression in adults. Fish oils help you sleep soundly, as well, which is a key to combatting everday insomnia.

Find even more healthy recipes with salmon in our collection of: Top 10 Salmon Recipes

Lemon Turmeric Grilled Chicken

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard about the miracle wonders of turmeric over the past year or so. It seems to be the cure-all of the moment. While turmeric is certainly having it's day, it's a fad for some great reasons. Among other health benefits, this yummy spicy is said to help elevate levels of serotonin in the body as well as lower stress hormones, helping to combat some common symtoms of anxiety.

Dark Chocolate Brownies with Sea Salt

You read that right! Chocolate CAN actually be good for you. Dark chocolate is a yummy way to help your brain function. It is proven to help increase your brain function and increase the levels of serotonin in your brain. Make some of these tasty dark chocolate brownies for a quick afternoon pick me up. Milk chocolate does not have the same impact as dark chocolate, so make sure you're munching on dark chocolate instead.

Double Dark Chocolate Cookie Balls

Just like the recipe above, this dark chocolate delight is the perfet bite to help elevate your mood. If you're someone who loves to indulge in sweets, make sure it's a healthier version. Sugar can actually make anxiety worse! So, make sure you have a way to sate your sweet tooth without too much refined sugar. We love these cookie balls made with a sugar substitute! They taste the like real thing.

Looking for kid-friendly recipes to keep your little ones happy and healthy? Check out our list of 18 Healthy After School Snack Ideas for Kids

Homemade Yogurt

Numerous studies show that there's a huge link between healthy gut and a healthy mind. A happy tummy can make your day so much better. If your body is able to properly process your food and nutrients, it will help you think straight, boost your mood, and sleep better. Yogurt is an excellent way to keep your gut healthy as it contains healthy probiotics that keep your belly balanced. Not all yogurts are created equal, however. If you're buying your yogurt at the store or even making your own, make sure to purchase something with probiotics.

A great way to save money on this is to buy plain probiotic yogurt at the store before flavoring it yourself. Find 15 yummy ways here.

Easy Pasta with Caramelized Onions and Spinach

Spinach and other leafy greens are an excellent source of magnesium. This mineral is said to help your body a ton. It's awesome for brain function, keeping you regular, and also promotes equilibrium on a cellular level that can help reduce stress hormones and feelings of stress on the body. While a salad is an excellent way to get your leafy greens in, we love this yummy pasta recipe as an anxiety-reducing dinner option.

Want to make it even better for you? Make sure to use whole grain pasta.

4-Ingredient Banana Bread Dump Cake

Bananas are another awesome source of magnesium that will keep you body happy and healthy. If leafy greens aren't your favorite, consider making this banana bread recipe. This dump cake contains 3 full bananas, making it much healthier than a lot of other recipes.

Blueberry Pie Smoothie

Rich in anti-oxidants, blueberries are said to promote brain function and have a calming effect. Drinking a smoothie is an awesome way to kickstart your day. We do reccomend either adding peanut butter or having them with some form of protein, however, as not eating enough in the morning can cause more anxiety!

Light Whole Wheat Bread

Bread is probably part of your daily meals! Did you know that eating the "wrong" bread could actually make your anxiety worse? A lot of store-bought white breads are actually pretty high in sugar and preservatives which can exacerbate or increase anxiety symptoms! Eating a healther, whole wheat option not only helps you prevent these icky side effects, but can help in the long run. Whole wheats are often high in magnesiums which can make you feel much better.

Foods that Increase Anxiety

Many foods and ingredients have been found to make anxiety much worse! Anything that can cause extra stress to your body and act as a stimulant or depressive should be used with caution. Many foods can easily impact your moods and made a bad day worse with the wrong combo. Be sure to watch out for the following:

Caffiene - It can be tough to try and live without your morning cup of coffee to kickstart your day. Caffiene, however, can do a number on your well-being. An already anxious person will see a rise in stess and anxious feelings with those coffee jitters. Try to keep your coffee habit to one cup a day or switch to tea.

Alcohol - Alcohol can do a number on your mental health. While a glass of wine to unwind might feel good, the lasting impacts can make anxiety much worse. Not only does alcohol impact your sleep schedule, it also acts as a depressant which can make anxiety and depression symptons much worse. Even worse, hangovers often come with their own type of anxiety the day after, especially for those already prone to anxiety. There's even a word for it "hangxiety".

Processed Sugar and Foods - Much like caffiene and alcohol, sugar can make anxiety symptoms worse. Too much sugar in your body impacts your body's ability to combat stress. Foods that are high in sugar and heavily processed also tend to lack key nutrients, which means your body is working overtime to support you without the nutrients it needs to keep you going. It's especially important to watch out for "sneaky" sugars that might be added to your meal in things like sauces, dressing, and more.

Aged Meats and Cheeses - While that yummy cheese plate can be tempting, these foods are actually proven to cause stress and often lead to insomnia. Fermented and aged foods contain what is called histamine which is said to trigger anxiety.

Looking for more info?

If you're looking for more information on what foods to eat to combat anxiety and stress, check out the articles below:

You are consuming too many calories.

When you are consuming a high-fat diet, it's very easy to go overboard on the calories, board-certified clinical nutritionist Sunny Brigham told Insider.

To make sure you don't overindulge, she suggests tracking your food intake (with an app) for a few days to see where the caloric level is, and adjust accordingly from there.

"Some will say that you don't need to have a caloric deficit in order to lose weight, but that's simply not the case for everyone," Brigham added.

The Benefit of Snacking

When we’re stressed, our bodies may seek comfort in the form of food. Carbohydrates containing fiber, like oatmeal, boost serotonin – a calming chemical in the brain. Other foods, like bananas or pears, can reduce our stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – that can otherwise overstimulate the body and brain.

Stress hormones drive us to crave foods like sugar, which release “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. But those choices provide a negative double-whammy because fast-digesting carbohydrates, like cookies or crackers, also stimulate regions of the brain involved in food cravings and addiction, making you want more. It’s a vicious cycle.

Before you reach for any snack, have a conversation with yourself: Am I hungry? Am I feeling bored or anxious? Am I really just thirsty? If you still need to eat, try choosing one of the foods below that boosts your body’s response to stress, alleviates anxiety and provides a feeling of fullness.

For example, let&rsquos say you&rsquore making cookies.

Peanut butter espresso cookies, to be precise. The first step of the recipe calls for whisking together flour, espresso powder, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

The next step is to use a separate bowl to combine the butter, peanut butter and brown sugar (and eventually the egg and vanilla).

Then you add the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients &ndash which is also why you&rsquoll see that I always call for the bowl of wet ingredients to be the larger of the two since that&rsquos where all your ingredients are going to end up together.

If we didn&rsquot do it that way, we could risk having an uneven distribution of the all the leavening agents and flavors. So you could end up with cookies that are deflated on one side, have none of the espresso flavor and entirely too much salt.

And I don&rsquot think I have to explain that lopsided, weird-tasting cookies is not a good look.

7 Foods You Should Actually Stress Eat

I’ve forged a deep emotional connection with food, mostly because eating brings me tremendous joy. I also suffer from anxiety (as well as about 18.1 percent of the U.S. population), and when I get nervous, my stomach’s the first organ to react. Recently, I was in the middle of stress-stuffing my mouth (at 2:00 a.m., of course) with graham crackers and realized why I turn to them in times of emotional crisis: Biting into them feels good and doesn’t take much effort.

When people stress eat (myself included), they rely on two qualities: texture and accessibility. And since junk food is easy to consume in large amounts, it’s a go-to for stress eaters. Outsmart your cravings for stress food staples with alternatives that capture junk food’s best textures and curb hunger.

What you&rsquore craving: ice cream

What to have instead: yogurt and fruit

Did you know that a diet rich in yogurt can lower anxiety? The probiotics in yogurt are a huge help to your digestive system, which is second only to your nervous system in susceptibility to anxiety. So when you’re stressed, you can calm down your gut microbes with a bowl of yogurt (plain has the least added sugar, or you can even make a batch ahead of time). Throw some berries or cut fruit and a few nuts on top and it’s almost like a Sundae.

What you&rsquore craving: potato chips

What to have instead: beet chips

With their rich flavor and crisp mouthfeel, potato chips are the ultimate draw for a stress eater. They are also extremely unhealthy and aren’t filling, which makes them evil. Beautiful, but evil. Beet chips, however, are a simple fix (they take about 15 minutes in the oven and 3 in the microwave) and, when sliced thinly enough, can even rival a potato chip’s crunch. Plus, they cover the salt craving. Pair them with a creamy dip, like this Turmeric Yogurt Dip, to cover yet another comforting texural basis.

How stress can make us overeat

It's been another hectic day. On impulse, you grab an extra-large candy bar during your afternoon break. You plan to take just a few bites. But before you know it, you've polished off the whole thing — and, at least temporarily, you may feel better.

Rest assured you're not alone. Stress, the hormones it unleashes, and the effects of high-fat, sugary "comfort foods" push people toward overeating.

Effects on appetite

In the short term, stress can shut down appetite. A structure in the brain called the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone, which suppresses appetite. The brain also sends messages to the adrenal glands atop the kidneys to pump out the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline). Epinephrine helps trigger the body's fight-or-flight response, a revved-up physiological state that temporarily puts eating on hold.

But if stress persists — or is perceived as persisting — it's a different story. The adrenal glands release another hormone called cortisol, and cortisol increases appetite and may also ramp up motivation in general, including the motivation to eat. Once a stressful episode is over, cortisol levels should fall, but if the stress doesn't go away — or if a person's stress response gets stuck in the "on" position — cortisol may stay elevated.

Fat and sugar cravings

Stress also seems to affect food preferences. Numerous studies — granted, many of them in animals — have shown that physical or emotional distress increases the intake of food high in fat, sugar, or both. High cortisol levels, in combination with high insulin levels, may be responsible. Other research suggests that ghrelin, a "hunger hormone," may have a role.

Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions. So part of our stress-induced craving for those foods may be that they counteract stress.

Of course, overeating isn't the only stress-related behavior that can add pounds. Stressed people lose sleep, exercise less, and drink more alcohol, all of which can contribute to becoming overweight.

Different responses

Some research suggests a gender difference in stress-coping behavior, with women being more likely to turn to food and men to alcohol or smoking. A Finnish study that included over 5,000 men and women showed that obesity was associated with stress-related eating in women but not in men. Other research has shown that high stress levels lead to weight gain in both women and men, but the effect is typically greater in men.

Harvard researchers have reported that stress from work and other sorts of problems correlates with weight gain, but only in those who were overweight at the beginning of the study period. One explanation: overweight people have elevated insulin levels, and stress-related weight gain is more likely to occur in the presence of high insulin.

How much cortisol people produce in response to stress may also factor into the stress–weight gain equation. Several years ago, British researchers designed an ingenious study that showed that people who responded to stress with high cortisol levels in an experimental setting were more likely to snack in response to daily hassles in their regular lives than low-cortisol responders.

Steps you can take

Stress reduction is a growth industry these days. There are dozens of things to try. Here are three suggestions:

  • Meditate. Countless studies show that meditation reduces stress, although much of the research has focused on high blood pressure and heart disease. Meditation may also help you be more mindful of food choices. With practice, a person may be able to pay better attention to the impulse to grab a fat- and sugar-loaded comfort food and inhibit the impulse.
  • Exercise more. Intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, but low-intensity exercise seems to reduce them. University of California researchers reported results in 2010 that exercise — and this was vigorous exercise — may blunt some of the negative effects of stress. Some activities, such as yoga and tai chi, have elements of both exercise and meditation.
  • Visit with friends. Social support seems to have a buffering effect on the stress people experience. For example, researchers have found that the mental health of people working in stressful situations, like hospital emergency departments, is better if they have social supports. But even those of us who live and work in situations where the stakes aren't as high will, as Lennon and McCartney suggested, be better off if we get a little help from our friends.

How to get rid of the smell of cooking oil

The fried food was delicious while you were eating it, but it&rsquos less than ideal when you can still smell the cooking oil odors the next day. Here are some ways you can eliminate the smell (or help prevent the lingering smell altogether):

  • Ventilate! As soon as you start heating the oil for frying, turn on the hood vents. Weather permitting, open the windows, too. Air circulation is your friend.
  • Line the area around your workstation with newspaper. It will catch the splatter and help make cleanup easier. But be careful it doesn&rsquot get too close to the stove flames!
  • Clean up immediately. As soon as you&rsquore done cooking, dispose of the oil (see above tips), clean the pot you used and clean your stovetop and counters (and frankly, the wall behind the stove, too).
  • Simmer some homemade potpourri on the stove. I like to fill a small pot with a couple cups of water, a few tablespoons of vinegar, and an assortment of spices and fruit peels and let it simmer until the water has evaporated to help eliminate the oil odors. I&rsquom a big fan of orange and lemon peels with a cinnamon stick.
  • When all else fails, bake! It feels like as good an excuse as any to make a batch of cookies or some banana bread. Your kitchen will smell great, and you&rsquoll have even more delicious treats.

As my friend Jim said about these fried sticks of heaven, &ldquoThey have parsley on them. Which basically makes them a salad.&rdquo

Obviously that&rsquos a joke&hellip or is it?

After you&rsquove made this recipe, please consider coming back to share your experience with others by leaving a comment below with a star rating!